Canada can be more than a follower on climate change

Minister Kent told his audience in Guelph about "the important role of science in driving the development of world-class regulations in Canada". Now is his chance to make this boast a reality on the climate file.
March 3, 2013

Environment Minister Peter Kent announced on Monday that Canada will follow the United States on climate change policy. To anyone who has been following the issue, this was no surprise. The Canadian government has been following U.S. climate policy, and climate-related energy policy, for years.

senate-hearing-15-12-11 A precedent for hearing the other side of the climate debate was set in the December 15, 2011 testimony of four climate experts before the Senate Standing Committee on Energy, the Environment and Natural Resources. Watch the hearing here.

Here are examples of Canada simply following the U.S. on climate change:

  • Since the Copenhagen Accord was agreed to in 2009, Canada’s greenhouse gas (GHG, i.e., primarily carbon dioxide (CO2) in Canada and the U.S.) emission targets have been exactly the same as the U.S., namely a 17% reduction below 2005 levels to be implemented by 2020.
  • Canada will implement these CO2 targets if the U.S. does, and will not implement them if the U.S. does not.
  • Kent, exactly as his counterparts in America, is pushing for a worldwide, legally-binding GHG emission treaty based on the United Nations Cancun Agreements. Leaders from both nations say that they want the new agreement finalized by 2015 and to come into force by 2020. Neither government appears concerned that China and other developing countries have an out-clause that will allow them to break any Cancun-based emissions agreement, an option not available to developed countries.
  • The Canadian Liberal government of Paul Martin added CO2 to the list of toxic substances under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act (see #74 on the Toxic Substances List). The current Conservative Government has not removed CO2 from the list.  Consequently, this listing constitutes the legal basis for the Canadian government’s decision to impose CO2 regulations on a sector by sector basis across the country. Similarly, U.S. courts decided that the Environmental Protection Agency has an obligation to control CO2 emissions under the Clean Air Act and this is exactly what the agency is now doing. So, rather than legislating a CO2 tax or CO2 cap and trade, the governments of both Canada and the United States are using a scientifically-flawed labeling of CO2 to enable economically damaging and environmentally useless regulations against CO2.
  • Canada is spending billions of dollars on research into sequestering CO2 underground, just as in the U.S.
  • The Canadian government is following President Barack Obama’s lead on phasing out coal-fired electricity generation despite the fact that it is the source of half of U.S. electric power and is a crucially important source for Alberta (74%), Nova Scotia (73%) and Saskatchewan (60%). Kent even boasted in his January 25, 2013 presentation to the Guelph Chamber of Commerce that, “We’ve also put in place regulations on coal fired electricity making Canada the first country ever to ban the construction of new coal plants using traditional technology.” In other words, unless a coal station can sequester CO2 underground, it cannot be built. Since the technology to do this on a national basis will not exist before the 2020s, if ever (demonstration projects are years from completion), Kent has effectively banned the construction of new coal-fired electricity stations, a mistake that will result in massive increases in electricity costs.
  • Both governments regularly employ the politically correct but scientifically flawed rhetoric of climate alarmism. Neither government focuses on preparing for the most dangerous climate threat, cooling, and neither gives credibility to the arguments presented by highly qualified scientists that our CO2 emissions are unlikely to be causing climate problems.
  • Both governments boost supposedly “low carbon” energy sources such as wind, solar and biofuels, in an attempt to meet their CO2 emission goals.

The purpose of Kent reiterating the obvious, namely that, when it comes to climate policy, we are in lockstep with the Americans, is clear. The Canadian government is trying to make it easier for Obama to approve the Keystone XL pipeline from the Alberta oil sands to refineries in Texas.

After all, if Canadian climate policy is little different from that of the U.S., then it is not credible for American climate campaigners to condemn the pipeline on the grounds that the oil is coming from a rogue nation with regards to “stopping climate change.” From a climatic perspective, importing crude oil from Canada becomes the same as getting it from another part of the United States.

“No one can blame Canada for their climate policy,” Obama can respond to environmentalists. “Their policy is our policy. If we want more climate action from Canada, then we have to change our own approach.”

It is distasteful for many Canadians that our country’s climate and energy policies are decided in Washington DC by politicians over whom we have no influence. This reality is even harder to accept when people realize that, because American politicians generally follow public opinion in their own country, Canadian public opinion is less significant to Canadian climate policy than is American public opinion. This is why it makes sense for Canadians to support efforts to educate the American public about the realities of climate change.

It is also a politically clever approach for the Conservatives since it absolves them of blame for bad climate policy, not just in the present but also in the future. Whether the approach is too weak, as David Suzuki and other climate campaigners assert, too strong, or not needed at all, as the International Climate Science Coalition maintains, the Harper government can simply respond that Canada had no choice but to follow the Americans since our economies are so tightly “harmonized”.

And they are right. We cannot afford to have climate and energy policies that are too different from those of the U.S. unless we are prepared to accept enormous financial penalties and endless legal and diplomatic rows.

Yet, the federal government need not simply be a follower in all respects. They can help build the foundation to make it politically feasible for Canadian and U.S. leaders to eventually withdraw our nations from the costly and misguided United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change Change (as allowed by Article 25 of the convention). Much as Prime Minister Chretien did in 2002 in the lead-up to his ratification of the Kyoto Protocol, Prime Minister Stephen Harper could order open public hearings into the science of climate change, inviting the country’s leading experts on both sides of the debate to testify.

The Government response to the inevitable accusations from media and activists that they are revealing themselves to be “climate change deniers” is simple and can be written by even the most junior of communications consultants. Here is a sample of an honest broker response that would appeal to thinking Canadians:

“We are not climate experts. We do not know the future of climate change. But we do know that there is considerable controversy in the field. Consequently, before expending yet billions of dollars more on the issue, we have an obligation to the people of Canada to properly investigate the current state of this complex and rapidly evolving field. Only then, will we, as as a responsible government, have the knowledge necessary to decide on the best approach to the climate file.”

As a result of well-publicized hearings across the country, enthusiasm to “stop climate change” will evaporate from public consciousness as Canadians come to understand that that meaningfully forecasting the future of climate is not possible. Plans to actually control our planet’s climate will then be seen as ridiculous.

Properly explained to the public and strategically conducted, such hearings would have a significant impact on Canadian and U.S. public opinion. Then, at last, our leaders can end the most expensive hoax in the history of science and focus on real environmental problems.

On January 25th Minister Kent told the Guelph Chamber of Commerce about “the important role of science in driving the development of world-class regulations in Canada”.  Now is his chance to make this boast a reality on the climate file.


Tom Harris is Executive Director of the International Climate Science Coalition, and a Research Fellow to the Frontier Centre for Public Policy.

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